Richard Hadlee is familiar with The Hindu. “Yeah, I remember reading the newspaper when I was in Chennai,” he said here on Friday.
Among the greatest all-rounders of his time, Hadlee had an astonishing 431 wickets in 86 Tests at just 22.29.
An attacking batsman, he made 3124 Test runs at 27.16 but was the quintessential bowling all-rounder. To many, he is the greatest cricketer produced by New Zealand.
Of course, Hadlee, now 62, played his cricket in different times.
“When we beat Australia for the first time in Tests, in the 1973-74 season, we were paid 100 dollars each. And we received 100 dollars as a bonus after the win,” he said in an interview to The Hindu here on Friday.
Then, the great cricketer added, “We played for pride and glory those days. I wouldn’t swap my times with the New Zealand team then to playing in the present days. I was in the teams that defeated Australia and England for the first time in Tests.”
Talk about present-day cricket and Hadlee was concerned by the lack of technique in several modern-day batsmen resulting in many collapses on pitches doing a bit.
Hadlee explained, “In my time, batsmen used to play forward and across, trying to get as close to the pitch of the ball as possible. There would hardly be any gap between the bat and the pad. Now they go forward in a straight-line. Resultantly, they play away from the body and leave themselves exposed. Their back-foot play is affected too.”
Hadlee felt the contemporary batsmen were playing too many shots in ODIs and Twenty20 formats and carrying those habits into Tests. “A strong defence has to be an essential ingredient of your batting,” he said.
The great seamer provided a fascinating insight into how he developed as a complete paceman. The use of the crease was key to this process.
Hadlee revealed, “Earlier, I mainly bowled wide of the crease. I was becoming predictable. Then, I realised that if I could get closer to the stumps, it would help my out-swing. It gave my bowling a new dimension. I also began to mix it up. Like bowling wide of the crease, but getting the ball to straighten at the batsman. As a bowler, you have to evolve.”
Hadlee believed the out-swinger was the biggest casualty in today’s cricket. “I think it is a true contest only when you have three slips and a gully waiting for the outside edge.
“But in the ODIs and the Twenty20 matches, an out-swinger is often edged to the boundary. The Twenty20, it’s more of a slog really. Bowlers are reluctant to send down out-swingers in the shorter formats and this impacts them adversely in Tests too,” he said.
On the kind of money paid to the cricketers in Twenty20 cricket, Hadlee said, “It’s a sign of the times really. It’s fickle. But it’s for your performances in Tests or the World Cup that people remember you for.”
Queried about the paceman who inspired him the most, Hadlee said, “Dennis Lillee. He was my idol, the total fast bowler. The way he would run in and bowl at 90 miles an hour yet with so much control, skill and hostility made him a complete package. I can never forget the sight of him bounding in, his long hair and golden chain swaying in the wind.”
Among the present day paceman, he picked Dale Steyn and Mitchell Johnson. “Steyn’s fast, has control and variety. Johnson is an old fashioned fast bowler. You do not see bowlers of his speed attempting to intimidate the batsmen these days.”
Hadlee felt plenty of pacemen these days were cutting down on speed due to the number of matches across different formats and the fear of injuries. “They are just preserving themselves,” he said.
Boycott tough, Richards brutal
England’s Geoff Boycott is the toughest batsmen he’s bowled at. “He was technically so sound. He would just leave perfect away going deliveries. And let’s not forget Vivian Richards. He was so dominating. Brutal at times.”
Among the modern-day batsmen, the recently retired Jacques Kallis was Hadlee’s favourite.
Although cricket is known as a batsman’s game, Hadlee said it was the bowler who made the play. “The bowler calls the shots. Whether he gets a wicket, forces a defensive shot, beats the bat or is hit for a four.”
Put forward a question to this phenomenal cricketer on corruption in cricket and he replied, “This game is all about integrity. You got to be true to yourself and the game.”